Thursday, June 3, 2010

"A Hornworm Ate My Baby!"

When I first started gardening, I grew only vegetables. I considered myself more of a cook who gardens than a gardener who cooks. Then I started growing herbs (still the best bang-for-your-buck edible in my book), which had the added bonus of attracting caterpillars.

After allowing those caterpillars to maul my herbs (here are my thoughts on caterpillar etiquette), I certainly wanted them to stick around as butterflies so I added the final piece of the puzzle: a food source for the butterflies. Last year I had a few Gulf fritillaries, usually in pairs, regularly visit. This year I've found a lot more metamorphised friends in the yard, despite killing three butterfly bushes.

At the top of the post is a female black swallowtail caterpillar. Either my admonitions last fall worked or the butterflies just couldn't resist all the blooming poppies and larkspurs.

I can't tell for sure (probably because I'm distracted by the neighbor's truck bed/trailer in her backyard) but I think this is a male black swallowtail butterfly. The female has more blue on her.A first for my garden, and a bit of a surprise, was this monarch. I never got a chance to plant more milkweed for the caterpillars to replace the ones I'd killed (yes, I killed a plant called a weed), but one butterfly just couldn't resist the flowers .I was even more surprised to see this eastern tiger swallowtail. I'd never seen one of these in my neighborhood until I stalked one the day before on a walk. I guess my entreaties of "here, little butterfly" were more appealing than creepy, and it followed me home.I hadn't even thought about providing shelter for resting butterflies, but due to my lazy busy with the baby days, these poppy stalks provide great cover. (I had managed to find time to snip the seedheads.) It took me a while to notice the fritallaries snoozing on them. There are two hidden in the picture below.Another unexpected butterfly sighting was this red admiral on the dog vomit slime mold covering my strawberries. The butterfly makes even vomit mold look pretty.No? Yeah, not working for me, either. I guess there limits as to what butterflies can beautify. The red admiral looks much better on the larkspur.Of course, before the butterflies arrive, there must be caterpillars. While I am happy to provide food for the swallowtail caterpillars and the Gulf fritallaries, I draw the line at the tomato hornworms. This gigantic hornworm (actually found by the dog on my inland sea oats ) provoked quite a flurry of tweets. (I still wish @Indygardener had come down and killed it for me.) It was huge--about five inches long and as thick as the middle finger I extended to it in salutation. Its horn was sharp and menacing, and it had a voracious appetite that may or may not have included delectable little babies.

Because I heard Meryl Streep in her impeccable Australian accent saying, "A hornworm ate my baby," every time I looked at it, I killed it.

(For the sphinx moth lovers out there, I did merely relocate two smaller ones I found on my tomato plants.)

And finally, here's a photo of the latest redneck gardener addition to the backyard. One of those cool mornings a few weeks ago, I took the boy out into the vegetable garden with me. It had rained the night before so I didn't want to put him on the wet ground. The sun was coming out so I cobbled together what I had to keep him protected. I hope to embarrass him at a later age with this photo. (In case you're worried, he's yawning, not crying, in this picture.)